Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Excuse The Indecent Haste ...

... but I have a piece up on Platform 10!

Platform 10

Do you like thoughtful and considered political opinion? ("Of course we do!" I hear you cry, "That's why we used to love your blog, before you started doing the political stuff elsewhere and banging on about lifting weights and comedy".)
If so, you really ought to check out Platform 10. There is a particularly compelling piece by m'great mate David Skelton today. It's about the dangers of underestimating Ed Miliband.
We've not won the next election yet guys, and this chap could well become Prime Minister (Ed or David Skelton, actually).
Do read the whole thing, but take a moment to void your bowels at the realisation that Labour only have to win 30 seats to be the largest party at the next election.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

I'm Presuming Ed ...

... Miliband won't read it, but I have written an open letter to him with some advice on how to take the Labour Party forward.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Anyone Can Play Guitar

Well actually, I can't, but I do want to learn. But more to the point, the above is the title of m'great mate Jon's documentary. Please have a look at the trailer, here.
I have seen some clips from the film and it looks wonderful. Despite not having seen the whole thing I am certain that it will be. Jon is seriously talented at this stuff and his subject matter - the Oxford music scene - is tremendously compelling as well.
You'll learn more about bands you love already, discover new-to-you music that may well be even better (Dive Dive, for example, are superb) and get a unique insight into the music industry.
It is terrifying for an artist of any kind and also for an ideological capitalist to be confronted with the reality that ability alone is no guarantor of success. This film explores this subject matter and more with great skill and beauty.
Update: Oh, and I now learn (given that Jon has mentioned it in a tweet) that I can make public the fact that the documentary is narrated by Stewart Lee!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Standing Up In London Town

I am performing at the Red Lion, opposite Big Ben, tonight. Doors open at 7:30pm, show starts at 8.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Debate? Hardly The Best Term

I have published my views on the leaders' TV debates, and how they could have gone better for the Conservatives.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Scrap The London Assembly

Can you think of a good reason not to?!

Friday, 17 September 2010

I Have A New Nickname ...

... Giant Feystacks.
Full credit to Christopher Montgomery for this magnificent invention.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


I have written a shorter version of my defence of William Hague for ConservativeHome. Here it is.

BTW, this is post number 701 on my blog!

And Now For Something Rather More Delightful

Herewith a video of my favourite ever footballer, Alan Judge, saving a penalty.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Thoughts On William Hague

I made the final of a prestigious stand-up comedy competition at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. I got a good seat too, in the second row. While I was sitting there waiting for the show to begin, a friend texted me to say that William Hague was in trouble over one of his special advisers (SpAds).

This was most unwelcome. First of all I am a loyal Conservative. Secondly I am very fond of William personally, as his leadership persuaded me to join the party and I had a chance to admire his work at close quarters when I was at Central Office. He is an utterly outstanding politician and would have held his own in any Conservative Cabinet of any era.

So what follows must be seen in that context; I'm a fully paid up WH fan. But he doesn't know I am writing this piece and I hope that readers will assess the merits of my assertions as if I were an objective commentator (and as if such a person exists!).

It seems to me that there has been a lot of nonsense talked and written about the whole Chris Myers saga and that with a bit of analysis its nonsensical nature becomes palpable. It was tempting not to do anything to give the story legs, but in my opinion that horse has bolted, especially in cyberspace. Here then, are some of my thoughts.

William's appointment of a third special adviser is not in breach of the Ministerial Code. The code states (see my old employers Channel Four FactCheck for a photostat) that although two SpAds shall be the norm, "Where a Minister has additional responsibility additional advisers may be allowed. All appointments, including exceptions to this rule, require the prior written approval of the Prime Minister".

William does indeed have additional responsibilities to the Foreign Office - he is First Secretary of State - and there is clearly room for manoeuvre. In my opinion every cabinet minister should be allowed several SpAds, but the main point is that William has not broken the rules in appointing a third.

Maybe he does want Chris Myers around for something other than his foreign policy expertise. That is what elements of the media are intimating. It may well be true, but not in the vulgar sense that is being hinted at.

William does not surround himself with morons or even the mediocre. Arminka Helic and Denzil Davidson, his other two SpAds, are razor-sharp and highly experienced in foreign policy. The notion that he would knowingly appoint someone substandard or for non-professional reasons will not be accepted by anyone who knows the man. It beggars belief that he could ever be motivated to do something so crass and idiotic.

However, there might be a very good and legitimate case for having a third SpAd with different skills. With Arminka and Denzil covering policy in their charming wonky way and the massed ranks of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hand as well, a talented fixer could be just what William needs to round off his private political office. And it seems that Mr Myers does indeed have admirable form in that department.

When it comes to staffing their political office, the minister knows best. The whole point of SpAds is that they are there because the minister trusts them implicitly. There shouldn't and can't be an endless stream of them, but it does not strike me as disproportionate that senior politicians should have the scope to appoint, say, four or five SpAds - i.e. advisers in whom they have total and personal faith. The minister alone should choose who those people are, just as an MP chooses their own secretary. Having the Prime Minister sign off on SpAds is good practice, but American politicians would find it laughable and incomprehensible that senior British politicians have so little ability to buffer themselves with able fellow travellers.

SpAds are vitally important. Be under no illusion, while there are some superb civil servants there are also plenty who are actively hostile to this government and currently working to undermine it. That is not hyperbole but fact. A SpAd is there to ensure that their master's wishes are obeyed. Far from being undemocratic, special advisers therefore play a key role in upholding the democratic mandate which ministers should enjoy.

There are plenty of talented people who are in their mid-twenties. I can't think of a single Oxford don whom I would want as a SpAd, no matter how expert in foreign affairs they are. But if a 25-year-old William Hague were available to me, I'd hire him on the spot. I don't see how most people could be sure that Chris Myers does not have similar talents. Politics is an art form, and only a few people are really effective at it. William is better placed than most to spot them.

On a more trivial note, bald people have to cover their heads in the sun, and we don't all like trilbys. Baseball caps are highly effective. And trainers and jeans are comfortable. That sort of outfit is not an affectation - a suit is. It is also perfectly normal practice to go for a walk with a junior colleague, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

During an election campaign six years ago, I shared a bed with a male colleague. We did it to save on costs and because it was convenient. (Moreover, frugality is not an unknown quality among rich people. One of my very wealthy colleagues on that campaign slept in a campervan instead of taking a hotel room.) Far more frequently, I share a room with male friends. As it happens, I am not remotely gay. Gayness or straightness is not what matters in politics though, professionalism is. William Hague is a consummate professional.

It is far from courageous to make snide insinuations about people. It's rather braver to dedicate yourself to public service, knowing full well that people will seek to belittle and undermine you, with no regard to how it will make you and your loved ones feel.

In over a decade of working in politics I have learned that some well-established rumours have absolutely no foundation in fact. More to the point, I have come to appreciate the rarity of significant ability in British politics. You might think that the country can afford to lose the likes of David Laws from the Cabinet and that it might be for the best if William shuffled off as well, even though there is precisely no evidence that he has done anything wrong. If so, I am here to tell you that you are very much mistaken.

But of course MPs must be held to account. I've worked as a researcher for Peter Oborne on articles and books in which he has slated politicians for their failings and in some cases corruption, and I am mighty proud to have done so. During the last general election I worked for Channel Four News and wrote items that were sometimes very critical of Conservative politicians. So while I have a partisan preference, I completely agree that malevolence and mendacity should be exposed no matter where they emanate from and have worked to help effect that.

Yet Peter has never asked me, not once, to fudge research so that he could smear someone or go on a fishing expedition. If we want to have a polity that is worthy of us, then we have a duty to assess politicians rigorously, clinically and honestly. A combination of innuendo and inadequate research does not pass muster. If bloggers want to be held in the same esteem as the print media, they need to remember that.

We cannot afford to lose our best politicians just because something (arguably) looks bad. The public and the media alike have a duty to look beyond first impressions. That's what I've tried to do here. I'll stake my reputation on this: William Hague is a massively capable man and he would never appoint an official whom he knew to be inadequate.

Update: I gather that Christopher Myers has resigned. Poor guy. I hope he finds a spectacularly enjoyable and well-paid job somewhere else, but I fear that his real love is politics. If so, he must come back. Soon.
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